How to go camping on a budget really depends on how much of a budget you have. A camping budget can range from if you turn out your pockets all you will find is lint to glamping to save on rent.
It can mean building a twig hut or turning the back end of your pickup truck into a very tiny house.
How to Camp Cheap
Budget is a conditional term, but here are a range of ideas.
1. Super Basic Camping
To go camping you need four things: a place to camp, a shelter, a place to sleep, and a way to eat. For the place to camp, a friend who has a country place or a free-to-camp park or other public land is a good choice.
If camping on publicly owned land, make sure you know the rules before you set up. For shelter, you can use an inexpensive plastic tarp or even a roll of clear plastic to create a tent. Use a sheet of plastic or a plastic bag as a moisture barrier/ground cloth.
In an extreme situation, you can build a brush hut. You can create a bedroll from whatever blankets or sheets you have on hand in your home. If you’re homeless and have no resources, your best bet is a bed of leaves or grasses. Foraging for food isn’t as easy as it sounds in the back-to-nature books.
If at all possible, take pocket food: granola bars, fresh fruit, dried fruit, and dried meat will keep you going for a while. Even boxes of cold cereal will help sustain you in a pinch. If you have a heat source, it’s likely to be wood burning, and you cannot count on all campsites allowing fires.
2. Better Basic Camping
Invest in an inexpensive ripstop nylon tent, sized for the number of people who will be camping. While not the most durable or the warmest option, they will serve to keep off the weather.
When packed with the right number of people for the tent, they are reasonably warm in winter. More than that, they will give you a place to put bedding and clothing out of the wet. Do not try to put a heater in this kind of tent.
You can build a campfire in front of your tent and create a reflector backdrop to send the heat toward your sleeping space. Dry food, easy-to-keep fresh fruit such as apples or oranges, and dry cereal will provide meals that don’t need to be heated. Canned food will keep, although it’s a little heavier to pack.
Small, portable, camp stoves can include Sterno and a number ten can be used to make a camp stove; one-burner propane stoves; two-burner propane stove; or a campfire cup with a battery charger attached.
3. Car Camping
If you have a vehicle that you’re driving to a campsite, use your car as a camper. You can either sleep on the fold-down seats or across the long backseat, depending on the type of vehicle.
Add a camper shell to a pickup truck to provide a portable roof. Remove the back seats from a van, and install beds or sleep on the van floor.
Car camping is more secure than tent camping and provides better shelter in bad weather. It also makes a better place to stash valuables, spare gear, and extra food.
You can easily combine car camping with having a campfire, portable camp stove, or even one of those fire-in-a-cup battery charging stoves. If the weather is calm, you can choose to place your sleeping bag outside and look at the stars.
Your vehicle can also serve as a backup generator to charge various batteries. With the right setup, you can even add a small, portable refrigerator to the mix.
In addition, if you have solar panels, they can be placed on top of your vehicle – a much safer place for them than most ground-level locations.
4. Backpack Survival Camping
You’ll have an initial cash layout for this kind of camping. Your two biggest expenses will be your pack and your tent and your stove, quickly followed by your sleeping bag or bedroll.
A basic stove-ready tent will begin at around $150, and the cost goes up from there, with larger tents costing more than small ones.
A wood stove to go with your tent will probably cost at least $100. A good backpack can be purchased for as little as $35, but the better ones will be more expensive. A good big and tall cold weather bag might run as little as $50 but double check the chill rating.
Add a wool army blanket as a backup for extra cold weather. Add a waterproof ground cloth, especially for under your sleeping bag. If you’ll have a stove inside the tent, you will want a fireproof pad to go under it.
If you want to forego the stove in the tent, you can get a cup-sized “stove” that will even charge your cell phone and cell phone backup batteries for around $150. Again, dried or canned food is prudent.
5. Semi-Permanent Budget Camping
Perhaps you are waiting for contractors to finish up your permanent house, or you have had a disaster and your normal abode isn’t safe for habitation.
An A-frame structure covered with almost any waterproof covering will provide a quick, easy-to-assemble temporary “house” that will get you and your loved ones out of the weather.
You can use natural poles gleaned from a woodlot, scavenged 2-inch by 4-inch lumber, or you can purchase lumber for the frame from your local lumber yard.
This assumes that you are building the structure on land owned by you or by someone known to you. These conditions mean that you can add to this structure as time and money allows, so you could start with ordinary plastic stretched over the frame, and later graduate to something more permanent.
As you can see, camping on a budget is a conditional term. You can mix and match items from these suggestions to meet your personal budgetary needs.